Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When West Meets West

Shortly after we opened the Record activity and began our class time for the day, we heard some noise through the open windows. It was a volunteer organization of foreigners trying to make Senegal a better place. Their idea is to plant trees across the country. James reports that they have planted about 10,000 so far.

Why do they need trees here? Shouldn't we give them food first? Why do foreigners have to run this project? Is Mboro the right spot? Why interrupt the natural simplicity of the sand?

All of these questions are ones that I thought of today and was asked by everyone that I mentioned this project to before I boarded the airplane. OK maybe all except the last one.

These thoughts brought me back to the third row of seventh grade social studies class. Looking down from the elevated second to last row, Mr. Clemente's clean shaven face stuck out more than usual. It wasn't because of the glistening sweat resulting from the September heat, but rather from my introduction to seventh grade US history. It was a short story about a people called Nacirema. It talked about weird rituals that they had, one of which included cleaning their face with sharp metal tools. Another quirk is that their name is sometimes read backwards.

Looking out the window it is easy to say that they can't reach every place in the world or that other things are more important or that the development project should be more locally focused. The more challenging action is to ask these questions facing the center of the classroom.

This has served as a good motivator for us as we had one of our best team planning sessions this evening and will try out some new tactics including foregoing a more formal introduction to our day's activity and to instead work off examples from our laptops. We will begin tomorrow's session with Turtle Art, which is similar to a once popular childrens' introduction to programming that involved a mechanical aparatus, a pen, and paper. After that we will work on the Maze activity for a short while and then proceed to Record again. With Record we will show the teachers how they can have their students record poetry or stories even before they can write. Stephanie realized that this was a great use of the XO after finding out that the younger students do not compose their own poetry because of their inability to write.

Staying focused on the task at hand and maintaining perspective is not always easy to do. As in seventh grade there is a time to look out the window and a time to look in.

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